Where to Stay, Eat, and Play on Sicily's Under-the-Radar Aeolian Islands


Welcome to Who What Wear Travels, a new series of curated guides to destinations the fashion set loves. Consider this your download on everything from the chicest stays to the most memorable meals to the perfect travel wardrobe, all vetted by stylish locals and well-traveled fashion folks.

It doesn't take much to see that Sicily is the moment right now. The southern Italian island and largest in the Mediterranean is the subject of endless fascination by the international crowd. This is, in no small part, because of the influence of the second season of HBO's highly acclaimed series The White Lotus, which was set in the chic resort town of Taormina. But if you travel roughly 50 miles to the north, you'll land in a corner of Sicily where the crowds of camera-happy tourists thin out dramatically, and in their place lies the very picture of Italian coastal bliss—the Aeolian Islands.

The Aeolian Islands, an archipelago of seven volcanic islands, sit just off the northeast coast of mainland Sicily but somehow feel worlds away. Though they were deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the islands have been the subject of fascination for far longer. References to the islands date all the way back to Greek mythology, including a mention in Homer's The Odyssey. Even today, the region continues to be a source of inspiration for all manner of artists—from Michael Radford, who filmed key scenes for his 1994 classic Il Postino on the beaches of Salina, to the many writers, designers, and architects who relish in the primitive beauty of these remote islands. The list of noteworthy names who own homes here is as varied and surprising as the islands themselves and includes names such as sculptor Maurizio Cattelan, conceptual artist Marina Abramovic, and fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.

(Image credit: @travelbyrebecca; @piabaroncini; The Thinking Traveller; La Sirena)

There's a reason you might not be very familiar with the Aeolians, though. Vogue referred to them as the "secret islands Italian keep to themselves," and it's not hard to see why locals and those in the know would want to gatekeep. "The quality of the blues, from crystal clear to bright aqua to deep azure, will mesmerize," shares luxury travel advisor Rebecca Bullen. Jutting up dramatically from the Tyrrhenian Sea, the islands reveal themselves as a bizarre primordial mix of black lava beaches and lunaresque rockscapes. In fact, Bullen adds, Stromboli and Vulcano are still active. If you're lucky, you'll get to see the most amazing light shows at night, as Stromboli—nicknamed "the lighthouse of the Mediterranean"—is quite active. When toured by boat, she likens parts of the islands to Hawaii or Kauai.

With Mars-like landscapes and Photoshop-blue water, the main draw is their unfettered access to nature. This is where you go to swim all day, eat the freshest seafood of your life, and gain a deeper understanding of dolce far niente, or "the sweetness of doing nothing." Up until now, the Aeolian Islands have enjoyed a very "if you know, you know" feel, but we have it on good account that they won't be that way forever.

(Image credit: Original Illustration by Makena Frederick)

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The islands each have their own distinct personalities. The inner islands of Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, and Panarea have the most to offer, while the outermost Alicudi, Filicudi, and Stromboli offer little more than their rugged landscapes and community with nature. 

For practical reasons, it doesn't make much sense to see them all, but if you have a few free months to spare, the thought of spending a week on each one sounds like our idea of heaven. Our recommendation is to prioritize the breathtaking Salina and its posh neighbor to the east, Panarea. If time allows, a sojourn over to the more rural and artsy Filicudi is not something you'll regret. For this guide, we narrowed our focus to these three.

"Panarea is a photogenic visual feast," shares Bullen. "Think whitewashed buildings covered in shocking pink bougainvillea [and] olive and lemon trees surrounded by the most turquoise sea." Meanwhile, Salina is a crowd-pleaser, Bullen says, and perhaps it's the most common answer to "What's your favorite island?" In addition to boasting some of the best beaches in the archipelago, Salina is where you'll want to head if hiking is your thing. Bullen suggests Maremma Safari Club, which offers a five-day small-group hike around the island.

"Each island is very different," echoes Pia Baroncini. "But I would absolutely recommend staying on Panarea or Salina, as they have the most to offer. These are very much still small islands, and they don't have great beaches—it's about day-tripping and jumping off a boat in a cove."

(Image credit: @piabaroncini; La Sirena; @ataraxia.mediterranea@hoskelsa)

A note on getting there. While there are not yet any direct flights to Sicily from the U.S., you'll likely be connecting through another major European city and flying into either Catania or Palermo, the two major airports in Sicily. Our recommendation is to plan a day or two of sightseeing here to break up the trip. From there, you can choose to charter a private helicopter straight to the islands or go the more common route, which is to board a hydrofoil or ferry from the ports in Palermo and Milazzo.

WWW Travels Tip: It's common to find only one ATM on the island, so you'd be wise to get cash at the airport before your arrival. 


(Image credit: Rebecca Bullen; Mariel Weinand)

We wanted our experts to be well-versed in travel to the Aeolian Islands but still have a fashion-person perspective. We tapped two women who each have a distinct POV on the region, but both share an emotional attachment to it that, you'll come to learn, is impossible to avoid.

Up first is Bullen, who is a luxury travel advisor and former fashion executive for brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Burberry. She puts it best, explaining that her job is to provide access to the best destinations and experiences around the world. Her area of expertise includes travel to Italy, of course, but also to France, Japan, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Bullen is extremely well-versed in what the luxury consumer expects thanks to her long career in luxury fashion houses, which, according to her, has made the transition to the travel industry quite seamless.

"Fashion people love to travel and always seem to be one step ahead when it comes to where to go next," Bullen says of her insider intel on the hottest destinations. "Thanks to a tip from a colleague—the VP of merchandising at Louis Vuitton at the time—my husband and I honeymooned in Tulum 12 years ago when it was still off the grid and showers were filtered seawater." We're not sure about you, but we're inclined to listen to her based on that anecdote alone.

Next, we tapped Baroncini, who you may know as the creative director of LPA. She's the co-founder of Baroncini Import & Co. and host of the Everything Is the Best podcast. Baroncini has such a special relationship with Sicily, as it's her husband's home, and she's spent the last eight years going there multiple times a year. "It's an incredibly large part of our life," she adds. Baroncini is also fresh off the heels of a very Instagrammable trip to the Aeolian Islands, where she celebrated her brand LPA with fellow It girls Elsa Hosk and Shay Mitchell


(Image credit: Hotel Principe di Salina; La Sirena Filicudi; @piabaroncini)

The list of luxury and high-end accommodations on the islands is limited, but that's definitely part of their rustic charm. There are locally owned and family-run boutique hotels that we think are the best way to experience the Aeolians, but you'll also find a number of sprawling private villas to rent.

WWW Travels Tip: There are no cars on the islands, but there are golf-cart taxis, so we suggest packing light and keeping your oversize luggage at home.

(Image credit: La Sirena Filicudi)

On the more remote island of Filicudi is La Sirena, a charming boutique hotel that's run by Italian gallerist Sergio Casoli. It features a restaurant and five rooms that boast panoramic views of Mount Etna and mainland Sicily.

As seen in Vogue and Condé Nast Traveller.

(Image credit: The Thinking Traveller)

Between the mini Revolve trip with LPA and a recent J.Crew trip in Taormina on mainland Sicily, The Thinking Traveller is quickly earning a spot as fashion's go-to for luxury Italian stays. It operates a cluster of unique private villas throughout the Mediterranean but has two sprawling properties to rent on the Aeolian Islands that are complete with panoramic terraces, dreamy pools, and bespoke details. While these stays are certainly on the luxe side, they make great options for families and larger groups.

(Image credit: Hotel Principe di Salina)

On the island of Salina is the Hotel Principe, and really, the photos speak for themselves here. It's a petite hotel but features whitewashed walls and cozy corners filled with Persian rugs and breathtaking perches over the Tyrrhenian Sea. It's also no wonder why it has become a wedding destination. There are no bad angles or views from here.

More stays to jot down: Beyond these three stays, Panarea's glamorous Hotel Raya is a summer hot spot vetted by Condé Nast Traveller, Forbes, and The New York Times. Also on Panarea is the romantic family-run Hotel Signum, where the cast and crew of Il Postino made their home during filming. Opened just last summer by the son of photographer and poet Giovanni Gastel is Casa G, a stylish four-bedroom villa on Filicudi with mentions in Vogue and Italy Segreta. Meanwhile, the rustic La Locanda del Postino is a charming hillside stay with sweeping views of Salina and comes recommended courtesy of Forbes. Soprano Villas offers an array of stunning private villa stays across the archipelago as well.


(Image credit: @schenaanna; Hotel Signum; Capofaro Locanda and Malvasia)

Once you make the by-no-means direct trip to the Aeolians, you're in for a treat—or many. It's hard to have a bad meal here, as everything you'll encounter is either a local spot that may not even be on Google Maps or a gourmet creation that blends modern cuisine with traditional cooking. Either way, expect some of the freshest seafood of your life, the Southern Italy specialty of granita, and lots of pasta (naturally) in addition to distinct volcanic wines.

(Image credit: Capofaro Locanda and Malvasia)

Capofaro Locanda and Malvasia is so many things it's impossible to put it in a box. It self-describes as a "wine resort," and with one look at the neat rows of vineyards that stretch out over the sea, you'll understand why. Practically speaking, it's a boutique resort with whitewashed cottages that give more Santorini than Italy, a sprawling vineyard, and a relaxed open-air lounge and restaurant where Italians from neighboring islands descend in the summer months. In addition to having dinner there, you might attend one of its wine tastings or winery tours led by the head sommelier, have picnics in the winery, or take a cooking class with the executive chef. 

"I'm a big breakfast person, and Capofaro's fresh baked bread and pastries and fresh ricotta are just perfection," gushes Bullen. "Relais & Châteaux [the hospitality group who manages the property] is where hospitality and gastronomy meet, so of course, the dinner here is divine as well. On the current menu? Aeolian-style crudo of Salina prawns, red snapper meunière, and Aeolian tiramisu to top it all off."

As seen in Forbes and CNN.

Baroncini raved to us about this little seaside cafe Da Alfredo that's a must-stop when you're in Salina. It's known for its almond granita, which is a type of shaved-ice dessert, and the photogenic terrace painted in Tyrrhenian-inspired blues.

(Image credit: Hotel Signum)

This is on the property of the Hotel Signum, and it's run by one of Italy's most exciting Michelin-star chefs, Martina Caruso. It's considered one of the best restaurants in the Aeolian Islands, and you'll find hyper-local ingredients, handmade pasta, and the freshest fish on the menu here. It's completely open and feels pretty rustic like the rest of the islands, but the food is anything but forgettable.

More restaurants to jot down: Beyond these, Ristorante Da Pina is widely considered one of the best restaurants on Panarea. Baroncini gushes, "I'll remember the tuna carpaccio forever." Fashion designer Alejandra Alonso Rojas recommends a stop at family-owned bakery Il Forno for boat-day provisions, which is also on Panarea. L'Anfora comes recommended by the Michelin dining guide and is located on the easier-to-reach island of Lipari. On Salina, Condé Nast Traveller suggests Porto Bello. Therasia Resort on Vulcano is home to Michelin-starred Il Cappero, Bullen informed us.


(Image credit: @ataraxia.mediterranea@piabaroncini; @francescajw; Getty Images)

By now, you might be starting to get the sense that the Aeolian Islands aren't where you go to check a tourist site off your list. There's no main attraction here like ancient ruins or world-renowned museums that you'd find throughout the rest of Italy. But then again, that's the excitement of exploring off the beaten path.

(Image credit: @francescajw; Getty Images)

On the island of Salina, Pollara beach is a must-see that's been recommended across the internet for its jaw-dropping views. Nestled beneath a rugged volcanic crater, it was also where many scenes in Il Postino were filmed. Bullen notes that "the beach that would be recognizable to fellow film fans has mostly disappeared, but the fisherman's huts that are built into the cliffside still remain." She added that nearby Punta Perciato, a picturesque volcanic arch that extends over the sea, is a must-see as well.

As seen in Condé Nast Traveller and The New York Times.

(Image credit: @piabaroncini@shaymitchell)

Panarea has a number of inlets and alcove beaches that are reachable only by boat, including Basiluzzo, Dattilo, and Lisca Bianca. The general recommendation we've heard over and over is to charter a boat for the day and go around the island to a few of these, where you can drop anchor to swim. 

WWW Travels Tip: Be aware that this is a place that absolutely requires a boat, as many of the beaches on Panarea are not very swimmable due to the abundance of jellyfish off the shore. You'll want to make arrangements to charter a boat for the day. Pick up lunch from a local bakery and a bottle or two of wine on your way to the dock so you can enjoy a post-swim lunch on the boat.

"If a bit of glitz and nightlife get you going, then run—don't walk—to Panarea before the secret is out," Bullen notes. The nightlife she's speaking of is none other than Hotel Raya, a hotel with an epic rooftop terrace bar that qualifies as one of the Aeolian's only destinations for some late-night fun. "In July, and especially August," she continues, "the yacht set descends here, and while not glam by French or Italian Riviera standards, this is about as glossy as it gets on the Aeolians."


Between the islands being largely carless and devoid of too much nightlife, the packing list for a trip here is decidedly minimal. "Less is more," Bullen warns. "Though, definitely plan for unpredictable weather patterns (think summer scarf or light windbreaker)." Unless your plans involve Hotel Raya during peak summer season, you can leave the tall heels and traditional going-out looks at home. Instead, we suggest focusing on essentials for the beach, boat, and pool and leaning into versatile resortwear that can take you from a casual lunch to an elevated dinner.

LPA is an excellent starting-off point, and Baroncini even admits that she "designed most of this collection with these vacations in mind, so honestly, everything LPA [is] just perfect [for the trip]." Other than that, she leans into easy-to-wear summer staples like woven totes, simple slides, and denim shorts.

Senior Editor

Anna is an editor on the fashion team at Who What Wear and has been at the company for over five years, having begun her career in the Los Angeles office before relocating to New York, where she's currently based. Having always been passionate about pursuing a career in fashion, she built up her experience interning at the likes of Michael Kors, A.L.C., and College Fashionista before joining the team as a post-graduate assistant editor. Anna has penned a number of interviews with Who What Wear's cover stars over the years, including A-listers Megan Fox, Issa Rae, and Emma Chamberlain. She's earned a reputation for scouting new and emerging brands from across the globe and championing them to our audience of millions. While fashion is her main wheelhouse, Anna led the launch of WWW Travels last year, a new lifestyle vertical that highlights all things travel through a fashion-person lens. She is passionate about shopping vintage, whether it be at a favorite local outpost or an on-the-road discovery, and has amassed a wardrobe full of unique finds. When she's not writing, you can find her shooting street imagery on her film camera, attempting to learn a fourth or fifth language, or planning her next trip across the globe.